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Pa, Will Not Get Attacks Benefits

December 13, 2001

STROUDSBURG, Pa. (AP) _ A woman who claimed she was the common-law wife of an officer killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will not receive $130,000 in federal benefits, a judge ruled.

Sonia Rodriguez, of East Stroudsburg, contended that her 16-year relationship with Walter A. McNeil Sr. was effectively a common-law marriage. She argued that entitled her to a one-time federal grant for uniformed government workers killed on duty Sept. 11.

McNeil, 53, a police officer for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, worked at the World Trade Center.

McNeil’s adult daughter, Kim McNeil of Albany, N.Y., had fought Rodriguez’s request. The judge’s ruling means she will share the $130,000 federal grant with her 15-year-old half brother, Walter McNeil Jr., the son of Rodriguez and McNeil.

In her Nov. 30 ruling, Monroe County Judge Linda Wallach Miller said while Rodriguez and McNeil lived together for several years and had a son together, they never publicly spoke of an intention to marry, didn’t wear wedding rings, maintained separate bank accounts and filed individual tax returns.

Pennsylvania is one of a few states that recognize common-law marriage, said Northampton County attorney David B. Shulman. New York state, where Rodriguez contends the relationship began, abandoned the designation decades ago.

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